Simon Glik had no idea he was about to get arrested by the Boston Police, then make legal history.
His route that evening in October, 2007, would take him down Tremont Street, next to the Boston Common. Then two things happened: Glik saw three Boston police officers arresting a teenager, and he heard someone yell, “You’re hurting him, stop!” Glik wanted to help, but he couldn’t stop the police. So he took out his cell phone. His cell phone had a camera and a video recorder. He began to videotape the arrest. After the police handcuffed the suspect, one of them turned to Glik and said, “I think you have taken enough pictures.” Glik responded, “I am recording this. I saw you punch him.”
Glik was handcuffed and arrested within minutes, he says. He was charged with violating the state’s wiretap laws, disturbing the peace, and aiding the escape of a prisoner. And of course, they seized his cell phone as evidence of his crimes.
In fact, we do have a solid First Amendment free speech right to videotape openly, especially to tape public officials doing their duty, like when police officers are effecting an arrest. Freedom of expression is particularly important regarding the government. It is the state that has the greatest incentive to be dictatorial and can wield the most effective power of suppression. This is most true of law enforcement. We give the police substantial discretion in the exercise of their duties. That carries a strong tendency to misuse. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Relative power corrupts relatively. Either way, it’s corrupted power.
He wasn’t the only one the police decided to arrest for filming them during a particularly rough arrest. A year and a half later, in December 2008, Jon Surmacz was at a holiday party in Brighton when the police got rough breaking things up. Surmacz took out his cell phone and videotaped the police actions. Police confronted the 34 year old webmaster for Boston University, handcuffed and arrested him charging violation of the state’s wiretap laws.
Ultimately, both Glik’s and Surmacz’s District Court cases were dismissed/ plead out. But then Glik filed a civil suit against the police officers and the City of Boston. That case is still pending. Recently, the Appeals Court for the 1st Circuit ruled in Glik’s case that the police officers did not have qualified immunity. That means they can be sued as individual persons. Qualified immunity serves to safeguard your assets from lawsuits relating to your job working for the government.
Simon Glik, a 33 year old law student at the time of his arrest, became a criminal defense attorney. Jon Surmacz is a content producer at Boston.com.
Cameras don’t lie.